The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves. – Steven Spielberg
In the prior 4 posts of this series on My Unlikely Career. A Retrospective, in 4 decades, I really dove down into my background. How I got to where I am today, despite little formal education, and certainly no marketing experience when I started. The point of that exercise wasn’t simply to pat myself on the back for making a small mountain from a molehill, but rather to try and help others get a sense of the characteristics and the environments that allowed me to learn, thrive and succeed.
As I look back at this long, winding road, I really think that the prior posts really can be encapsulated in a few key points, literally one per post (although I didn’t plan it that way, this series was not “outlined” in advance, it has just emerged as a stream of consciousness).
The points I would hope you’d take away thus far are:
Have vision. Don’t settle for what you know, focus on what you want to know. Don’t limit yourself to where you are. I’ve reiterated (ad nauseum) in this series of posts my desire to “play where the puck is going, not where the puck already is” (to paraphrase Wayne Gretzky). I like to sum this up by focusing on the outcome you want to see, not so much on the limiters, or the process to get there. I try to infuse that in my marketing because people buy things that solve problems – which is an outcome. Focus on the outcomes more than on the way you create the outcomes. Most importantly, don’t settle for good, when great is worth working for.
Be inquisitive. As long as you have a thirst to learn and expand your horizons, the possibilities are endless. When it has come to my career, I’ve never really said “I can’t”. I’ve instead focused on pushing through when I’ve thought that and dug myself in to learn. Most of the time, I’ve found that “I can’t” has become “I did”. I wish I had this same level of perseverance when it comes to other parts of my life – it’s an interesting thing when you become introspective and aware enough to realize that really core capabilities of one part of your life – in my case, my work – is so different than how you apply it (or rather don’t apply it) to other things, such as relationships, hobbies, sports, exercise and more.
Don’t be afraid to let yourself be lucky. Luck shows up in strange ways. Sometimes it’s in the company you join. Sometimes in the people you work with. Sometimes it’s the tactical things that happen every day. Either I have been blessed to be placed in places, or with inspired and inspiring people where I was able to learn, thrive and succeed, or I’ve been lucky. Lucky to get those chances, and unafraid to leverage them. I am okay with lucky being more important than planned, because, at least for me, lucky has worked out.
As I stated in the first post of the series, I have rarely – okay, never before – taken the opportunity to be introspective. To really look where I came from, and how I got here. And while the story I’ve written focuses on the wins, there have been losses, too. Not everything always worked, professionally or personally. I’ve sacrificed a lot. I’ve failed a lot. I’ve also succeeded – that’s life. Until I stepped up a few weeks ago to share my story with our team, I didn’t really realize how much both the failures and the successes frame me. I wish it didn’t take me 37 years of working to realize that.
The last post ended with me at GRiD, exposed to people with true vision who saw where the puck was going. Shortly after GRiD was acquired by Tandy (Radio Shack), I left. That was really only 7 years into my career journey, meaning there have been ~30 years since. As therapeutic as writing the prior posts was for me (and hopefully somewhat interesting for you to read), I don’t feel a need to continue with 10 more posts. I think you already get the idea.
I won’t go deeply into the years right after GRiD, where I decided to quit and not get a job, but instead take my passion for photography (my favorite hobby back then) and turn it into a profession, doing commercial photography for companies and agencies (I had some well-known clients: Sun Microsystems. Trimble Navigation, SanDisk, AMD, others). I even had my own studio in the heart of Silicon Valley. Those were the days when photographs were taken on film and (if needed) retouched by hand (digital photography and Photoshop weren’t around yet). The big takeaways from that period were:
I picked a business that technology was killing (despite having worked for companies that were disrupting old ways of doing things). I picked something where the puck wasn’t going to stay there very long.
It’s much harder to market and sell yourself than to market and sell something else. A big learning indeed.
After a few years of running my own business (in a dying industry, with young kids at home) I decided that probably wasn’t the best long term life strategy, I decided to shut it down and go back to work. I landed at a software company named Mercury Interactive, as marketing communications manager. It was a true game changer for me, and I could write for days about everything I learned and did while there. But I’ll narrow it down to a few key takeaways (someday I might revisit the whole period in another series). It was the first Israeli company I worked for, which strangely enough has become a bit of a theme for me (Clicktale is my third). That alone created a totally different cultural experience for me. Mercury had amazing leadership (and I had amazing colleagues) that really formed most of my philosophies of business, and of marketing in particular. I started as a manager, and left as a vice president. I was able to make that massive leap because of a corporate philosophy that focused relentlessly on empowerment.
Amnon Landan, our CEO, empowered people to excel. He didn’t micromanage. He hired really strong people with skills and ambition (and as a result the rest of us also hired in similar fashion). He then let us do our jobs. He trusted us. Many times, I’d walk into his office with a proposed marketing tactic or strategy that was “outside the box”. Remember, I like to be provocative. He was pretty conservative. My team, and even my boss, would often look at me like I was crazy, but I’d walk into his office and he’d look at what I was proposing, and while I am sure he thought I WAS crazy, he’d ask me if I thought it was the right thing to do. I’d say: “I wouldn’t have brought it to you if I didn’t”.
My team and my boss would see me emerge from Amnon’s office smiling and think to themselves “what the hell just happened?”. They thought I was a “dead man walking” going in, and a cat with nine lives walking out. I am forever grateful for the chance to succeed, and being empowered to stretch and prove that provocative can work.
Amnon never told me not to try something (not a single time). I ran radio ads (yes, for B2B testing tool software) that featured Christmas carols. In July. In the mid-90’s. I ran print ads with naked ballet dancers wrapped up in ropes and suspended in the air. He trusted that I knew what I was doing (I probably didn’t, but I digress) and he recognized that he wasn’t my target audience anyway, so he let me do it. Luckily, I wasn’t wrong very often. I learned from Amnon that it was okay to be fearless, as long as you were committed. It was the first time I worked for a company that was both a market leader, but also one that got there by demonstrating that leadership internally, every single day. Those two things are so interconnected in my opinion.
Listen to one of our “Christmas in July” Radio ads:
The other big takeaways from Mercury were mentoring and collaboration. I mentioned Amnon above, but I’d be remiss in not mentioning Jayaram Bhat. Jayaram was Mercury’s Vice President of Marketing, who hired me after a few years out of the industry, from a newspaper ad (another recurring theme). Jayaram trusted me, and empowered me, and promoted me multiple times, and still continues to mentor me today, 25 years later. Jayaram later joined Tealeaf’s board and was instrumental in me ending up there. He’s been a CEO and a Venture Capitalist since, and I realized that I had done okay as a marketer when “the shoe ended up on the other foot” and he started calling me for marketing and hiring advice for his companies. His comfort level with himself allowed me to grow myself – he didn’t disintermediate my interactions with our sales teams, with our leadership (including Amnon), with the other C-level executives, and even with the Board. That confidence has allowed me to feel comfortable in those circles ever since, and I hope I apply the same philosophy every day with the people who work under (really alongside) me today.
The mentoring wasn’t just from those above me, though. It was from collaboration with my peers and colleagues. I left there 19 years ago, yet I am still friends with so many of these people who really shaped me. We mentored each other. It was a group of people thirsting to learn, and crazily inquisitive. My first day there, someone I hadn’t met in my hiring process – David Fishman (who despite being American lived in Israel at the time), approached me with my first exposure to my new world of working with Israelis: brusquely asking me what I could do to help him be successful. Welcome aboard, Geoff. We became great friends, and David’s directness framed my full distaste for passive aggressiveness.
I learned everything I know about product marketing from Zohar Gilad – who is still the only colleague in this long career that I nearly punched in the face. In the office. I literally had to be pulled away from him by Jayaram, who then made us go out and get drunk together later that night – and we are still good friends. I learned everything I know about Public Relations from Sue Ann Murray, still one of the best PR pros I’ve ever worked with. Carol Baxter was the first person I hired to my team, and she is still one of the best marcom talents I’ve worked with, and she was our neighbor for the short time we lived back in San Jose in 2015. Ken Klein ran sales, and later was Mercury’s president. He taught me everything I know about enterprise selling, about building the relationship between sales and marketing, and he even let me become an evangelist to our prospects and customers. Once I had that “megaphone” in my hands, I’ve never stopped. Dan Schoenbaum literally one day asked me “have you ever seen a website?” I hadn’t. Dan kind of changed everything. I don’t have an exact count – but people I worked with at Mercury are a remarkably accomplished group – VCs, CEOs, Founders, C-level executives, valued consultants, Gartner analysts. I’m pretty fucking proud to count myself among them.
So, I think the series is done (even though my career certainly isn’t), and there are 6 key takeaways from my journey that jump out at me:
Vision, Inquisitiveness, Luck, Introspection, Mentoring, Collaboration
And people. Great, great people.
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